Recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions raise questions about the Trump Administration using deportation proceedings to punish political opponents -- both institutions and individuals.
Three undocumented activists in Vermont were arrested over the past week by ICE agents -- two of them, while leaving the office of an organization that advocates for immigrants' rights. In Texas, meanwhile, a federal magistrate judge on Monday confirmed that immigration agents were conducting raids in response to policy changes carried out by the county seat of Austin.
The Texas-based federal magistrate, Judge Andrew Austin, recalled how ICE officials had told him to "expect a big operation" and that it was "a result of the [Travis County] sheriff's new policy." This assertion was confirmed by the testimony of an ICE Agent named Laron Bryant.
Fifty-one people were netted in the raids. Twenty-eight of them had no criminal record whatsoever.
The policy referred to by Judge Austin was a decision by Travis County to only cooperate with ICE detention requests, when they are paired with a warrant. Sally Hernandez, the county sheriff, enacted the change in January, after winning an election, in part, by promising reduced cooperation with federal immigration officials.
The Austin American-Statesman, which first reported the courtroom admission, noted that ICE had previously denied targeting Travis County for so-called "sanctuary city" policies. Supporters of such policies argue that local law enforcement should be concerned solely with community safety, and that it is threatened by asking local cops to enforce federal immigration law.
In Vermont, meanwhile, two undocumented activists with the group Migrant Justice were detained by ICE agents on Friday, while leaving the organization's Burlington-based office.
The arrests of Jose Enrique "Kike" Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios Rodriguez occurred two days after the arrest of another local undocumented activist outside of a county courthouse. Cesar Alexis Carrillo Sanchez, a farm laborer organizer, had reportedly shown up for a hearing on drunk driving charges. Prosecutors were expected to drop criminal charges against Sanchez.
Migrant Justice organizer Abel Luna reacted to the arrests of Rodriguez and Sanchez, saying in a press release that it represents: "a clear demonstration that the Trump administration wants to break organized communities, bring us back to the shadows, bring us back to fear where we once were."
"Leaders such as Kike and Zully have fought to make Vermont a better place for our communities," Luna added. "[T]hese attacks will make our communities stronger, resilient and definitely we will remain standing after the storm."
The arrests in Vermont and the courtroom revelations in Texas come weeks after the dramatic detention in Jackson, Miss. of an undocumented activist at a demonstration. On March 1, The Argentine-born Daniela Vargas was arrested by ICE agents just moments after speaking out against Trump immigration policies.
The recipient of temporary protected status granted by President Obama in late 2014, Vargas had been brought to the United States while seven-years-old.
When Trump launched his presidential campaign, he claimed that undocumented immigrants were fueling a crime wave.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said in June 2015. "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."